Spring Valley Tournament approaches perfection

April 02, 2011 at 09:36 PM

A lot of top walleye fishermen probably thought they’d died and gone to heaven last weekend.

The Spring Valley Walleye Club has been hosting the Cabella’s Masters Walleye Circuit season opener for 25 years now, and on March 26-27, the fishing on the Illinois River was about as good as it gets.

On that Sunday, all but one of the 123 teams entered weighed a limit of fish, and that one boat was but a single fish short.

On Saturday, 120 teams brought in a limit.

“We were one fish away from having a ‘quote-unquote’ perfect catch on Sunday,” said Bill Guerrini, founder and executive director of the Spring Valley Walleye Club. “That tells you how good the fishing was this weekend. Everybody caught fish and everybody left happy.”

Spring Valley on the Illinois River is the traditional first stop on the circuit.

“Mother Nature cooperated, and the river levels cooperated,” Guerrini said.

Since the tournament’s inception, the club has worked together with state fish hatcheries to help produce the next generation of sauger (the native cousin of the walleye).

Illinois Department of Natural Resources personnel collected 400 females and about 100 males for brood stock.

Any fish produced will be raised in rearing ponds at the LaSalle Fish Hatchery in Marseilles.

When the fish have finished spawning, they will be returned to the river.

According to Gary Lutterbie, DNR fisheries biologist, 19 million fry were put back into the river last year.

About 300,000 fingerlings also will be restocked.

“Those have a much greater survival rate,” Guerrini said.

Mark Meravy of Shorewood and Tom Brunz of Madison Lake, Minn., took first place in the tournament.

Their two-day total of 10 fish weighed 24.05 pounds.

First-prize money included a $17,300 check. They also received a $500 Berkley Baits Prize Package, a $500 Cabella’s gift card and $750 for weighing the second-biggest fish on Day 2.

The father-and-son team of Tom and Tom Giachetto Jr. of Ladd took second with 23.51 pounds.

Second place paid $7,100.

Ronald Levin and Nick Ingoglia of Beach Park were third with 23.24 pounds, good for a check of $4,800 plus a $1,000 Cabela’s gift card, $500 in cash from Worldwide Marine Insurance contingency and a $300 Cabela’s gift card for being the second-highest placing MWC Premier Team.

The top 24 teams shared a $64,000 purse and more in prizes.

Total catch for the tournament was 1,208 fish.

Most fish were sauger, with a few walleyes.

Fish brought to the scales weighed 2,273.01 pounds.

The biggest fish was a 5.96-pound walleye caught by B.J. Liebe and Brian Ernat of Ladd.

“We’ve had some really good years and some really bad years,” Guerrini said. “This ranks up there with one of the best.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.